Sunday, 14 September 2008

35th for Sundays

The Sunday Sun turned 35 today, but we are reluctant to pop the cork and shout Happy 35th with conviction. It was, and still could be, so much more.

The anticipation factor in picking up the Sunday Sun has diminished considerably since broadsheet thinkers gained control of the tabloid

While the Toronto Sun wasn't the first to publish a Sunday newspaper in the city, as mentioned in a Page 2 story today, it was the most successful launch.

As noted in Ron Poulton's 1976 book, Life In A Word Factory:

"In 1957, John Bassett learned to his sorrow that Toronto readers were conditioned to labor for six days a week and rest with their roast beef on the seventh. He published a Sunday Telegram for 20 weeks in defiance of the Lord's Day Act. Church leaders swooped around his ears, saying: "Do we follow God, or do we follow Baal?" God won and Bassett dropped $750,000."

After the Sunday Telegram hit the streets, Toronto Star carriers were asked if they would deliver on Sundays and apparently most, like yours truly, said sure, why not? But the Star backed off and before you knew it, the Sunday Telegram was history.

You had to live through those repressive Lord's Day Act years to fully appreciate the power churches wielded in restricting Sunday activity. No sports, no movies, no live theatre, no shopping, no serving of alcohol etc. Today, liberals and atheists label it the Dark Ages.

Poulton also noted that a year after the Sunday Telegram experiment was called off, Bassett sent his son, Douglas, to Oakville to launch the Oakville Sunday Sun, an out-of-town trial that lasted 10 months.

Two decades later, on Sept. 16, 1973, less than two years after the launch of the daily Sun, Doug Creighton et al gambled on a belief that Toronto and beyond was ready for a Sunday newspaper.

How right they were, selling out the first 150,000 press run, with Phil Sykes as Sunday Sun editor.

The Sunday Sun enjoyed a frenzied ride over the next two decades, peaking at 550,000-plus in 1992 with Michael Burke-Gaffney as its editor.

That peak in sales, pumped by the first Blue Jays World Series win, was reached just weeks before Creighton, the founding publisher, was dumped as CEO by the Sun's board of diwreckers.

The Toronto Sun, especially the Sunday Sun, has been on a downward spiral since then, with the pace escalating after the takeover by Quebecor in 1999. Sunday circulation is down to about 300,000.

The Sunday Sun in its glory days was unbeatable for content and reader adoration. Reader magnets included Paul Rimstead, Max Haines, Gary Dunford, offbeat feature stories, Page 3 SUNshine Girls, contests etc.

But just about every piece of the tabloid formula that made the Sunday Sun a success story has been squeezed from the paper. It has lost its edge - and tens of thousands of once faithful readers.

And, for thousands of readers who don't live in the mysterious "selected areas" designated by Sun Media, the Sunday Sun has been lighter since the TV guide was dropped.

The strongest draws today are sports and entertainment, which were the priorities of Pierre Peladeau Sr. when he tried, unsuccessfully, to buy into the prosperous Sun in the 1970s.

The Sunday Sun is now No. 2 behind the Sunday Star and the Sun Media rallying cry earlier this year to regain the title are now empty words.

A price hike for the thinning Sunday Sun, due Oct. 6 won't help boost sales.

Meanwhile, news reports say Quebecor Media will invest $1 billion in its newest toy - wireless.

We wonder how Sun Media employees working in bare bones newsrooms feel about that expenditure.

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